South Asians for Human Rights

Promoting Democracy, Upholding Human Rights

By Nabeela Hussain

Bertrand Russell said: “war does not determine who is right but who is left behind.” They argue about who is right and wrong, if the war was won fairly according to international laws. They see the destruction left behind by the war, but do they see the women left behind by it?

Widowed and alone, in a society that trained them to be the home makers and believe it’s the man’s duty to provide for the family, they are today left destitute and desperately searching for a way to survive and not be exploited in the process.

The exploited

Non-Governmental Organizations and politicians in the north both show increasing cause for concern about the situation faced by women in the North. They say that many have been exploited and are facing many hardships, alone, as they are very often widows who bear the pain of not only losing their husbands but also their children and in some instance the entire family.

“Some of these women have their husbands in rehabilitation camps and they have no one to turn to, the NGO’s that provide them with funds have asked many of them to come to distant places like Colombo to collect it and therefore they are unable to go,” said Tamil Eelam Liberation Organization (TELO) Political Leader M. K Sivajilingam.

Mr. Sivjilingam explained that women who were desperate for work to support their families are the ones who were exploited the most, with some being promised employment but being tricked into prostitution. “There are women who have been taken to Colombo and other places promising them employment and then forced into prostitution not even the teenage girls are spared from this menace,” he said.

Tamil National Alliance (TNA) MP and Spokesman, Suresh Premachandran said women were the most affected by the war in the Northern Province. “Many have been married at an early age because they did not want to go to war and now many of them are widows desperately searching for their families.

“There are women in prisons in the North who have been there for years, they have no chargers against them, but they are yet there,” the Parliamentarian said. He explained that many were war widows with children of young ages who have no family to support them and no income of their own.

MP Premachanran explained that even though there was a considerable number of widows with no income, NGOs were unable to help them because of government regulations. “Even some of the local NGOs have told me that it is challenging to work there and that they are unable to do so because of some government regulations,” he said.

The parliamentarian said that even though the issue was raised with the government no steps were being taken. “The government has no plan to help them and it has no funds to do so either,” he said.

Premachandran explained the situation was made much worse by the fact that the government had no proper census of the widows or those who were missing.

“We don’t want to point the finger at anyone but these women are being exploited by those who are said to be looking after them and others in the public as well,” he stated.

“The only thing that many of these women ask when we meet them is to help look for their families who they believe are alive. We have asked the government to release such information but it had done little and these women spend their time travelling desperately from police stations to camps doing everything they could to look for their loved ones,” he said.

Director General of the Media Centre for National Security (MCNS), Lakshman Hulugalle however said that they had not received complaints from anybody regarding the harassment faced by women. “We agree that they are facing major difficulties but up to now we have not received any complaints and neither has it been taken up in parliament,” he said.

Situation in Jaffna

The Home for Human Rights (HHR) said that there was a definite increase in the number of violence against women in the area.

HHR Coordinator, T. A Arulnayagam explained that the events could not be pin pointed to a particular group, but they were entreating the authorities to take action as the number of complaints was increasing.

“We received 50 cases during the past five months alone and these are statistics that we alone have received. We don’t know the number of cases that other organizations have received,” he said.

“These incidents are scattered throughout the peninsula and many of them take place in the village areas,” Mr. Arulnayagam said. He explained that they had taken steps to hold a peaceful demonstration together with other NGOs to create public awareness and also ask the authorities to take more action.

“We also have our own village motivators through which we create awareness,” he said. Mr. Arulnayagam said that the change in the situation in the area was a contributing factor for the hardships faced by women, from being concerned about only their safety during the war people’s mentality had now changed with the end of war.

“The police are conducting investigations into these cases but they are incomplete therefore we are asking them to double their efforts so that violence against women in the area maybe reduced,” he said.

The Jaffna branch of Women In Need (WIN) stated that they receive 20- 30 cases a month. The Organization said that they receive work that come directly to them while others have been directed to them by the police. WIN said that many of the cases were from the village areas and they were conducting awareness programs in the area.

Even though it will take time and effort to reduce the hardships faced by women in the North who have been severely affected by the war it is an ongoing process that need to be strengthened by the authorities.

And as Eve Merriam (poet) said that “she dreamt of the day of giving birth to a child who will ask, Mother what was war?”, unfortunately for many of the Sri Lankan women, many of who live in the North that day is yet far away…

Source: Daily Mirror – 11.07.2011